I sat in the front seats in AV room at Leinster House with eight women and one man at a long table in front of me, a full audience of TDs and Senators behind. I’d never done anything like this before, I was there out of interest and glad to be invited, I didn’t know what ‘briefing’ politicians was about.
Richard Boyd Barrett introduced the topic and revealed that he and his former partner gave birth to a baby with a condition incompatible with life, and died at birth. His empathy was palpable.
The first to speak, Ruth, had only begun her story and I was crying. Thankfully I had canteen serviettes in my bag, because there were eight more stories to go and I don’t think I could have remained sitting.
You see, even though I went through the trauma of fatal foetal abnormality eleven years ago, I have never known anyone I could talk to, or with whom I could share the experience. Even though I wrote about it, and took the first human rights case against Ireland, I still felt alienated as if this was something only I had to go through.
So today was quite a milestone. I had no intention of speaking because I find it very difficult to repeat my story but I realised I could remember all the legal nuances from my ECHR case and the Heads of Bill.
I stood and said I was Deirdre de Barra who wrote the letter in 2002. I am normally very nervous speaking in public, but the facts were so well known to me and the wrongdoing so clear, that it wasn’t an effort, the point was to remind these legislators how to enable the amendment to the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.
It was funny and kind of David Norris to say to me afterwards that he kept my letter from 2002. Indeed it was very moving to hear each and every one of the audience who spoke in response, confirming that they would support legislation in this situation.
Catherine Murphy Kildare North TD summed it up when she described the listening experience as surreal, stating that briefings in the AV Room were generally full of engagement, questions and explanations, but in this case there was no need, it was so clear that change was needed.
I firmly believe there is scope to amend the proposed bill, we have cross party support and I believe that support will grow. It was unfortunate that Peter Mathews had to leave mid presentation, the briefing was only for an hour, if he couldn’t stay he shouldn’t have come in. Because he missed what I had to say to him. Don’t compare a flower with a fatally abnormal foetus.